Writing about the VLOW!?

Luna Maurer showing the brilliant interactive music video "Do not touch"

Luna Maurer showing the brilliant interactive music video “Do not touch”

Bregenz is a small but culturally buzzing town on the Austrian border of Lake Constance. You might have heard of the stunning art museum by Peter Zumthor, the world biggest sea stage featured in a Bond thriller or of Bregenz being the home town of Stefan Sagmeister. But have you been to the bi-annual design conference VLOW! yet? If not, do so.

The conference´s name refers to the state of intense engagement known as “flow” pronounced in regional dialect. The conference´s mission is to map the territory between 2- and 3-D design. Speakers this year ranged from Norwegian architectural practice Snøhetta, Swiss poster king Niklaus Troxler, to the experimental work of Studio Moniker in Amsterdam. But to report back from the conference by summing up the speaker´s works and words would not paint an appropriate picture of the VLOW!. Why?

Because it was not only for meeting interesting designers that I undertook the long journey from Berlin to Bregenz, it was also to meet 400 fellow attendees. For this is the conference where the audience becomes part of the program through a cleverly designed meeting architecture by conference curator Hans-Joachim Gögl and his team. How do you convey this feeling of community and empowerment that comes with actively engaging on such an occasion?

It was the conference itself that gave me the answer, by inviting everyone to submit questions to work on in mini-workshops. So I found myself hosting an impromptu workshop to discuss just that very question: How to write about the VLOW? Luckily a lot of people seemed to have pondered this and wanted or needed to write about the conference, some in a professional context, some reporting back to the colleagues in the office.

Visual identity VLOW! 2014 by Cyan, photo by Anja Koehler

VLOW! 2014´s visual identity by Cyan, photo by Anja Koehler showing our workshop

We started out by asking ourselves what we wanted to write about, further than the obvious points such as the theme and mission of the VLOW! or the choice of speakers. This is what we came up with as VLOW! characteristics in three consecutive seasons:

  • The range of disciplines attending
  • The meeting architecture
  • The different spatial situations and our movements through the unusual location
  • The fluid relation between learning and teaching
  • The exchanges and encounters in between events
  • The values being proposed and discussed
  • The presentation styles
  • The conference as a social situation
  • The possiblity to design your own conference experience and its perils (being lost for choice)
  • The day after: key learnings to take home (also of the speakers?)

And  then the even more interesting question on how can we write about it?
Roughly the ideas can be sorted into three groups. First there was a feeling that such a participative conference should opt for an open source style of documentation, portraying and including the crowd into it´s generation. One person summed this up as a VLOWkipedia, which might include the following:

  • A review in real-time written all together (in google docs?)
  • A diagram of crowd movement and energy levels during the two days
  • A survey of audience satisfaction before and after in two images of facial expressions
  • A YouTube video made by smartphone video snippets submitted by attendees
  • A collection of all business cards circulated
  • A photographic collection of all designer glasses present
  • A glossary of specialist terms in D/AT/CH including neologisms, such as “Teilgeber”
  • An analogue or digital guestbook with links to all attendees
  • A text collage of quotes:
    • What was the most exciting, funny, sad or dangerous moment of the conference?
    • Who did you meet? What did you do while skipping a talk?
    • What did you learn and what did you do with it the day after?

Secondly there were a lot of ideas concerned with shifting the perspective of the writer and combining multiple perspectives into one report. This might imply using other media than words, possibly graphic recording or a photo story. Suggestions included reporting:

  • from different national viewpoints in different languages
  • from different disciplines viewpoints such as architects, scenographers e.t.c.
  • from the perspective of the curator, including his briefings to the speakers
  • from the perspective of the speakers, starting with their first encounter with the curator
  • from the perspective of „outsiders“ such as waiters, technicians, cloakroom attendants e.t.c.
  •  from the perspective of the presenter (we are all looking forward to that one)

Finally, nobody wanted the VLOW! to end. Ideas for letting the conference live on included:

  • Visualizing the networks that emerged from VLOW! conferences over the years
  • Creating a new work with the crowd during the VLOW! for the next conference
  • Starting a TUMBLR with screenshots of all presentations without any words
  • Producing podcasts of the talks for the attendees to share with collegues
  • Publishing a cookbook with recipes of the speakers
  • Compiling all of Clemens Schedler`s bon mots into a souvenir book
  • Recording a message from the future VLOW! 20–possibly in a spaceship enterprise setting?

We left with a bag full of ideas, a pile of business cards and the incentive to share what we would write.  On my way back home I decided that it was this experience that for me best sums up the VLOW! experience for me.

Here is the review of the VLOW! itself and here is what fellow attendees wrote:







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